Nanotechnology is a field of applied sciences and technologies involving the control of matter on the atomic and molecular scale, normally under 100 nanometers, nanoparticulated substances may
exhibit different physical and chemical properties compared with the same substances at normal scale, such as increased chemical reactivity due to greater surface area.
Experts believe that nanotechnology products could have a substantial impact on the food and feed sector in the future, offering benefits for industry and the consumer. Nanotechnology can
enable the management of food ingredients on a molecular level. Companies and institutes worldwide are currently researching and developing applications in fields such as the treatment of the
mechanical and sensorial properties of food – for instance to achieve changed taste or texture – and modified nutritional value. Nanotechnology may also be used in food packaging, for instance
to ensure better protection or to detect how fresh food is.
Risk assessment in the field of food and feed Given the novelty of this technology, the safety of possible food and feed applications needs to be assessed and a need for risk assessment is
expected in the context of:
1) The authorisation of regulated substances.
2) The presence of nanoparticles as contaminants in food and feed.
3) Replies to general requests such as whether the application of nanotechnologies in food production leads to changes in nutritional value or bioavailability.
Since 2006 EFSA has been following developments in nanotechnology within its remit. An internal working group on nanotechnology has reviewed the current state of knowledge and latest
developments in nanotechnology with regard to food and feed. On request from the European Commission, EFSA’s Scientific Committee is preparing an initial Opinion on the need for specific risk
assessment approaches for nanotechnology applications in the field of food and feed. The Opinion has to identify the nature of possible hazards associated with current and foreseen applications
of nanotechnology in this area. It should also give guidance on the data needed for the risk assessment of such technologies and applications. EFSA has set up a working group on nanotechnology
involving experts from national food safety authorities to help develop its Opinion. A draft is due to be put to public consultation in July 2008 and EFSA intends to finalise the Opinion in the
autumn of 2008.
For more information:
Working Group on nanotechnology
Nanotechnology mandate from the European Commission
Webcast: Nanotechnology in food – EFSA Scientific Forum
Presentations: Scientific Symposium on Food Safety, Nutrition and Nanotechnology
European Commission: nanotechnology homepage
European Commission DG SANCO: nanotechnologies
European Commission: strategy for nanotechnology